February 25, 2007

Don't Step in that Big Hole!

Yesterday we took our first trip to the "Big Ditch" up in northwestern Arizona. Sonja has dreamed of seeing it since she saw that Brady Bunch episode for the first time. I think it lived up to her expectations.

We stayed up on the south rim for our first trip together to the Grand Canyon. Which was fine by us, since it was a bit chilly for an extended hike (around 38 degrees) and all the trails leading into the canyon were covered by snow and ice. Not the best combination when the slightest slip could mean a very quick journey to the bottom of the canyon.

Besides, we neglected to fill our flashlights with enough baked beans to last the return trip to the rim. We'll have to wait until next time to look for fossils and find the Indian boy.

The ravens at the overlooks kept us entertained, too. We were hoping to see a California Condor, but weren't lucky enough. I guess that means we'll have to go back. Darn.

On our way home we decided to stop by a scenic overlook along the "Little Colorado Gorge" in the Navajo Reservation. The warning sign wasn't lying. Leaning over the railing (in the places that had a railing) revealed nothing but air until you got to the river at the bottom. Makes you wonder if they have trouble keeping children and dogs from flying off the edge.

We thought this gorge was almost more dramatic, in some ways, than the Grand Canyon. Sure, the famous one is wide, and about five times deeper, but you rarely get to see cliff faces as dramatic as this from the South Rim...unless you hike for a ways, first.

Finally, we've recently been having trouble keeping our suet feeder filled. We've been hanging it against the trunk of a juniper in our front yard. During the day we put a new block up, but often less than a day later will find the feeder wide open with the suet gone. I figured the latch was just popping open, or a squirrel jimmied it apart. So yesterday Sonja filled it again and hung it back on the tree. Well, it looks like we no longer have a suet feeder. This time, the culprit wasn't content to simply open it up and take the goods. Nope. Whoever is responsible decided to physically remove the feeder from the tree and carry it away. Hmmm...I wonder who could have done that?

February 23, 2007

The Red Carpet

Well, it's that time of year again. Time for my favorite four hours of popcorn television. The Academy Awards will be broadcast this Sunday, and if you're a fan of movies you will undoubtedly be joining me on the couch for the big show. Sure, lots of people complain that it's nothing but an over-indulgent pat on their own backs for the Hollywood crowd, and yes, I'll concede that much. But I still love the spectacle of it all, and always feel that little glimmer of butterflies when waiting to see if my pick wins the award. Besides, who's going to pass up watching Al Gore win an Oscar?

Overall, I think this year has one of the most diverse groups of nominees, and as a result, we aren't going to see a runaway horse taking nine or ten awards (cuz none of them were nominated for that many. Dreamgirls came closest with 8 nominations, followed by Babel with 7, and Pan's Labyrinth and The Queen, each with 6). We're going to see Oscars distributed pretty evenly throughout all the nominees.

Best Picture - The Departed (This one is a no-brainer, particularly since Scorcese is a shoe-in for Director, too. Although I actually enjoyed Babel and Little Miss Sunshine more)

Best Director - Martin Scorsese (see above)

Best Actress - Helen Mirren for "The Queen" (another no-brainer. Since when has anyone playing British royalty NOT won an Oscar?)

Best Actor - Forest Whitaker for "The Last King of Scotland" (has there ever been any doubt? An amazing performance by Whitaker. Go see this movie!)

Best Supporting Actor - Eddie Murphy "Dreamgirls" (I think Dreamgirls' Best Picture snub is going to reverberate into a lot of "lesser category" votes, including this stellar performance by an oft-overlooked talent)

Best Supporting Actress - Jennifer Hudson "Dreamgirls" (The buzz around her performance might mean that academy members spread their votes around, thinking everyone else will vote for her. If that happens, it's anyone's award. Even Abigail's)

Best Screenplay - Little Miss Sunshine (Little Miss has got to win something, so even though Letters has a better chance of winning, I'm going with my favorite)

Best Adapted Screenplay - The Departed (Can you imagine if Borat won this? I think members might vote for it just to see what Sasha Baron Cohen does on stage)

Best Foreign Language Film - The Lives of Others (While I LOVED Pan's Labyrinth, Lives is much more traditional Oscar-meat)

Best Animated Feature - Cars (Duh)

Best Documentary Feature - An Inconvenient Truth (No way Hollywood is going to pass up giving our former Next President an Oscar)

Art Direction - Pan's Labyrinth (Labyrinth has this one in the bag, almost. Pirates has a chance of taking it, too, though)

Cinematography - Children of Men (Haven't seen it, but I've heard awed comments about the apocolyptic camera pans)

Costume Design - Dreamgirls (Another "pity" award for Dreamgirls)

Visual Effects - Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man's Chest (no contest)

Sound Mixing - Dreamgirls (I never really understood the difference between this and sound editing, so this is just a guess)

Sound Editing - Letters from Iwo Jima (I find it hard to imagine the Academy won't give SOMETHING to honor Clint's latest masterpiece)

Short Film (Live Action) - West Bank Story (this one's a shot in the dark)

Short Film (Animated) - The Little Match Girl (another blind guess)

Music (Song) - "Patience" from Dreamgirls (If it's not this one, it's one of the other two Dreamgirls songs)

Music (Score) - Pan's Labyrinth (Haunting. Truly haunting.)

Make-up - Pan's Labyrinth (So creepy, yet strangely compelling. No contest)

Film Editing - United 93 (a nod to a very interesting film...by far the best "9/11" film to date)

Documentary Short Subject - The Blood of Yingzhou District (sounds like a good Oscar candidate from the title alone)

Here's my prediction of the top award winners:

Dreamgirls = 5
Pan's Labyrinth/The Departed = 3

February 18, 2007

Red Tank Draw and the GBBC

Your guess is as good as mine as to what the name of today's hiking spot means. I get the whole "red" part, and perhaps if you call a stream a draw, that makes sense, too. Oh well. At least it was a fun hike.

There wasn't much in the way of a trail, though. Which meant that most of the hike involved navigating our way over large river rocks and underneath/around/through assorted prickly things. Lots and lots of prickly things. Everything we encountered seemed to be armored with some sort of burr, prickle, thorn, spine or dagger. You'd think we were living in a desert or something.

But the dogs were having a great time playing in the stream and running around on the sandstone formations.

Sonja even found an old bear skull that Luna seemed to like the taste of.

So I dared Sonja to try a bite.

It was really cool to see the contrast between the flat, red sandstone and the round volcanic basalt. We were hoping to find some petroglyphs that are supposed to be down in that area, but after two hours of hiking in we decided we'd try again some other time. And rather than bushwack our way along the streambed and risk a sprained/broken ankle, we opted to climb up onto the ridge and take the "easy" way back to the car.

Ok, so let's just say we didn't think this plan through all the way. At least by the time we got back to the car the dogs had learned the fine art of cacti maneuvering. Well, sort of. But it only took us twenty minutes to pull all of the spines off of the two of them.

We also took part in the Great Backyard Bird Count today. We missed a few species I was hoping for (like a Greater Roadrunner), but overall not a bad showing for only a couple hours. No lifers, but it was fun to keep track during our hike. Here's our list of the 23 species we saw, in roughly taxonomic order:

American Coot: 6
Hooded Merganser: 1
American Widgeon: 32
Ring-necked Duck: 2
Red-tailed Hawk: 2
Cooper's Hawk: 1
Northern Flicker: 1
Ladder-backed Woodpecker: 1
Gila Woodpecker: 2
Common Raven: 2
Mourning Dove: 3
Western Bluebird: 6
American Robin: 1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet: 1
Bushtit: 3
Bridled Titmouse: 2
Canyon Wren: 1
Rock Wren: 2
Northern Cardinal: 1
White-crowned Sparrow: 3
Dark-eyed Junco: 27
House Finch: 8
Lesser Goldfinch: 6

There's still another day and a half if any of you are interested in participating. All you have to do is watch birds anywhere you want to for at least fifteen minutes before the end of tomorrow (Monday). Record the species you see and the number of individuals you can identify for each. Go here for more detailed info on the rules and how to submit your list. And happy birding!

February 11, 2007

"America: Freedom to Fascism"

I just got done watching "America: Freedom to Fascism." Now, I've seen lots of these kinds of documentaries over the past five years or so, and they are all quite good ("Why We Fight" in particular is a fantastic film). In fact, I've commented about some of them periodically here. I know some of you prefer me to stick to posting about hikes we take and birds we've seen. But sometimes I just need to talk about things I think are important. Things I think EVERYONE should think are important. Besides, it's always good to stay informed, and to listen to viewpoints you may never have been introduced to before. And it never hurts to investigate why we do things certain ways, rather than simply doing it for no better reason than, "Well, that's just the way it's done."

For instance, why do we pay income taxes? Cuz it's the law, right? Wrong.

Don't like paying income taxes? Well, guess what? You don't have to! There is no law that requires Americans to pay a direct, unapportioned tax on their labor. It doesn't exist. In fact, the Supreme Court has ruled multiple times that the 16th Amendment, the part of the Constitution the IRS always refers to when justifying their authority to mandate payment of taxes on our income, does not give the government any such authority whatsoever. I'm not saying all taxes are illegal, cuz they aren't. But mandating a federal income tax certainly is. In fact, IRS code uses the term "voluntary compliance" when discussing payment of income taxes. Interesting, huh? Even if you never intend to stop paying your income tax, this is a very interesting discussion to get involved in.

Want to learn more about it? You can either go here, or just watch "America: Freedom to Fascism."

Every American should watch it, and not just because it tells you that you don't have to pay income taxes. More importantly, it talks about the Federal Reserve. Did you know that the Federal Reserve, the entity that creates U.S. currency, is a private bank? The only thing "federal" about it is the name. It's not a government agency at all. Want to learn why this is such a very, very bad thing? Watch this movie:

America: Freedom to Fascism

Call me a conspiracy theorist. Call me a wacko liberal. I don't care what you call me, as long as you take an hour and a half out of your lives and go watch "America: Freedom to Fascism."

Money for Nothing

Another great clip from The Daily Show.

February 09, 2007

Old Stuff is Cool

So our hike yesterday was really cool. Despite the heat (yup, I'm rubbing it in), the dogs did pretty darn well on the hike to the top of the "mountain", although they need to learn how to avoid running into, stepping on, and sticking their noses into cacti. Here are some neat pictures of our little adventure.

First, we took the dogs for a little swim in Beaver Creek, part of Coconino National Forest, and only ten minutes from our house.

Here's one of the cacti (I think this is a variety of cholla) that is beginning to bloom.

As we approached the summit, we encountered our first evidence of the ancient Sinaguans who lived here over 1,000 years ago. We were amazed that there were as many potsherds as there were laying around. Obviously, this site isn't very well known, or the whole mountain would have been torn apart by vandals and thieves. Sonja spent a good amount of time hiding all of the really cool pieces under rocks and inside cacti to keep people from taking them off the mountain.

In fact, the ground was literally covered with pieces of prehistoric pottery. The presence of so many artifacts was humbling...and almost spiritual. We could almost feel the presence of the ancient Sinaguans. Here's a short movie showing some of the more interesting pieces we found:

The ruins of the pueblo were pretty torn apart, however. You can sort of make out some of the rooms behind Sonja in this picture.

And this is the view looking out across the Verde Valley from the summit. We live about half-way up the picture from Sonja and the dogs, but just out of the frame to the right.

And finally, here are a couple obligatory bird pictures from our feeders. It's been fun seeing all the winter residents hanging out, including Gambel's Quail, Say's Phoebes and Western Bluebirds.

These are a pair of male Lesser Goldfinch, a southwestern specialty.

And, one of our more exciting neighbors, another bird you can't see anywhere else in the country, a Gila Woodpecker. I can't wait for all the neotropical migrants to start showing up in April. Hopefully I'll get some good pictures of a Vermillion Flycatcher, or if I'm really lucky a Painted Bunting. Even if I don't get one of those, I'm sure the eight species of hummingbirds sure to be visiting our feeders will keep me busy for a while.

Oh, and for those of you who, for one reason or another, weren't able to view those slideshows from our trip down the Alaska Highway, you can just click here to simply view the photos in the album.

February 08, 2007

Something Seems Different

Let's see if you can figure out what it is...

Yeah, yesterday was a sad day. We finally got rid of our Alaskan license plates, after having them for eight years. Oh well, change is good, right?

So, today our plan is to hike up to some nearby Sinaguan ruins with the dogs. I just have to decide whether or not to wear shorts with my sandles, since it's gonna be getting up to 75 today. It'll be rough being outside on such a crappy day...in February.

February 01, 2007

Alaska to Arizona

Ok, I'm finally getting around to posting pictures from our 4257 mile journey to Arizona. Due to the fact that I'm too cheap to pay for a Photobucket upgrade, the slide show needed to be split up into five parts. Unfortunately, I couldn't get the slideshows to actually display on my blog, so for now you'll have to click on each of the links below to see each part. Oh well...not quite as cool as if you could watch them here, but you'll still get to see them.

Part 1: Seward to the Canadian Border

Part 2: Stuck in Haines Junction, Yukon Territory

Part 3: Haines Junction, Yukon, to Prince George, BC

Part 4: Prince George to Oregon

Park 5: Southern California to Rimrock, Arizona!

I do, however, know how to make videos work. So here's a little bonus for you of Harvey's reaction to his first wood bison. Even doped up on sedatives he couldn't resist the allure of large, hairy mammals.

So, there you go. It was a long trip, but still exciting at times. And Sonja even helped drive...for at least 47 of the 4200 miles. A rather traumatic incident involving a flock of ptarmigan on the road put an end to her driving, though. At least until we got to California, where she actually stayed awake for almost an hour while driving. There's just something about road trips that makes Sonja very sleepy. But only when she's the one doing the driving. A little suspicious, if you ask me. But I really didn't mind doing most of the driving.

I also wanted to add that we tried a bit of highway birding along the way. I've done my fair share of that before, and it usually yields some pretty interesting results. However, considering that 3/4 of our trip involved driving through cold and snowy mountains, it's safe to say that our list wasn't all that impressive. At least not until we got to central California, where we both ended up getting some lifers (Yellow-billed Magpies and Anna's Hummingbirds for me, and I think Sonja ended up with 12 lifers). However, we chose not to count the aforementioned ptarmigan. In Sonja's defense, it is quite difficult to see a white bird sitting on a snowy road at 7 in the morning in January, let alone slow down in time.